Health impacts of air pollutionIndicator
There is currently no data available on the impacts of air pollution on human health in the ACT, nor the associated costs to the health system and the economy. Current expert and research consensus suggests that air pollution, even at concentrations below the current air quality standards, is associated with adverse health effects.
- ? Poor
- ? Unknown
- ? Good
Indicator assessment legend
Environmental condition is healthy across the ACT, OR pressure likely to have negligible impact on environmental condition/human health.
Environmental condition is neither positive or negative and may be variable across the ACT, OR pressure likely to have limited impact on environmental condition/human health.
Environmental condition is under significant stress, OR pressure likely to have significant impact on environmental condition/ human health.
Data is insufficient to make an assessment of status and trends.
Adequate high-quality evidence and high level of consensus
Limited evidence or limited consensus
Evidence and consensus too low to make an assessment
Assessments of status, trends and data quality are not appropriate for the indicator
Polluted air causes a range of short and long-term negative health outcomes. The common air pollutants present in the ACT – particles, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and ozone – are all associated with a range of harmful effects on human and environmental health.
The impacts of air pollution on human health is dependent on a range of factors including exposure level and the age and background health status of individuals. Many people, such as those with chronic respiratory conditions, are at greater risk of experiencing adverse health events when exposed to poor-quality air. Cardiovascular and respiratory complaints are some of the most common effects, with acute cases resulting in increased doctor and hospital visits, and even death in extreme cases.
The AAQ NEPM standards are designed to adequately protect human health and wellbeing. However, there is a large body of evidence that demonstrates that air pollution, even at concentrations below the current air quality standards, is associated with adverse health effects.Environment Protection Authority Victoria, 2018, Air Pollution in Victoria – A Summary of the State of Knowledge, August 2018, Carlton, Victoria. The strongest evidence relates to premature mortality and effects on the respiratory and cardiovascular system. Particulate matter is estimated to be the individual pollutant responsible for the largest burden of disease from outdoor pollution.
In recognition of the evidence on health impacts, national standards are moving towards the position that there is no safe concentration for sensitive people, especially for particles (PM10, PM2.5). In 2013, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified outdoor air pollution and particulate matter as carcinogenic to humans.International Agency for Research on Cancer, 2016, IARC Monographs: Outdoor Air Pollution, Volume 109, accessed August 2019.
Any reduction in air pollution will result in health benefits, even where pollutant concentrations are within the air quality standards.
Condition and trends
There is currently no data available on the impacts of air pollution on human health in the ACT, nor the associated costs to the health system and the economy. At the time of writing this report, the Office of the Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment was unable to obtain data on doctor visits and hospital admissions during periods of poor air quality, or data on increases in respiratory and cardiovascular problems associated with periods of poor air quality.